CARDIFF: New Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels says he was suitably impressed by Reece Hodge's first start at No.10 for the Wallabies and has made it clear he is happy for the youngster to play there next Super Rugby season if it benefits Australian rugby.
Before last weekend's match, Hodge had played all 10 Wallabies Tests this year on the wing - half from the bench and half in the starting XV.
Bernard Foley's late withdrawal due to illness presented Hodge with an opportunity to take on the role of chief playmaker and he did it with absolute aplomb as the Wallabies crushed Japan 63-30.
Although Hodge will move back to the wing this Saturday against Wales, one man who has been watching with interest is Wessels.
The former Western Force coach is putting the pieces of the puzzle together for his back-line next year, a group that contains the likes of Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Marika Koroibete and Jack Maddocks.
Wessels has been in regular dialogue with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika about what to do with Hodge, a player many believe could one day fill Foley's shoes.
Rather than adopting a "let's do things my way" approach, Wessels is more concerned about what is best for Australian rugby when it comes to discussing the number on Hodge's back.
"It's about deciding whether playing No.10 is best for Reece, best for us as a team and what is best for Australian rugby," Wessels told Fairfax Media. "I'm very clear that we feel a responsibility to help the Wallabies achieve some of their goals and we know that if the Wallabies are going well, it has a knock-on effect for everybody in Australian rugby.
"To Cheik's credit, I don't think he's dictating that to anybody. Cheik will probably be open to whatever we want to do but I value his opinion.
"I've had a couple of discussions with Reece and he's really impressed me. He's got a lot of appealing qualities. He's got speed and played Test rugby in the outside backs. You'd say he's got a lot of the things that could make him a really high-quality 10.
"The best thing of all is just how calm he is. It's a big ask to have your first game in a long game at 10 and then do that at Test level. He just looked really calm and took it all on board."
Wessels has also heaped praise on another Rebels young gun in Jack Maddocks.
The 20-year-old has been taken on the spring tour as a development player after catching Cheika's eye in his debut Super Rugby season.
"I look at a guy there who I think could potentially play an important role at a World Cup," Wessels said. "There's a huge amount to do there between where he is now and where he is going to end up but I'm looking forward to working with him."
The return of Force back-rower Ben McCalman and the rise of Matt Philip, who made his Test debut last week, have given Wessels immense satisfaction.
"I said to Cheik before the [Japan] game that I thought Ben was really going to blow it away," Wessels said. "He came out and he was absolutely steaming. Ben's a pretty special athlete. He showed what he was capable of.
"And you can't be more proud of a guy like Matt and what he's achieved. If I think to a year ago when he arrived in Perth, would he be a Wallaby? To be honest, I didn't think so. I can tell you over the last couple of months I started to think that he could definitely be a Wallaby."
On the topic of Adam Coleman potentially moving to Melbourne, as has been widely speculated, Wessels, who mentored the Wallabies second-rower at the Force, confirmed he was still a chance of joining the Rebels next season.
"We're continuing to talk to him at this stage," Wessels said. "Everybody in Australian rugby recognises that we'd like to keep Adam. I have a good relationship with Adzy and I enjoy working with him. Ultimately it really is the player's decision."